Hey everybody and welcome back for the conclusion of my “Origins” article mini-series, where I share with you how I got to where I am today and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I originally talked about my early years in the game, which you can read by clicking here if you missed it. The second part of this mini-series was spent talking about the role that the online community played, which you can read about by clicking here. Today I’m going to talk about what caused my transition from online player to top-ranked duelist.
When we last left off, I had just topped what would make three-events in a row for me; SJC Nashville, Nationals 2010, and YCS Indianapolis. Even though I played at locals and regionals in my area, I did the majority of my testing online up until this point. The transition to wanting to compete at real events was primarily motivated by a desire to disprove Christian, who thought I was not good at the game. I thought that the results of these three events somehow proved what Chris was saying to not be true.
How was he going to tell me I was bad? I had three major tops and he didn’t have a single one!
Not that Chris was wrong. In any way. I wasn’t good at the game. He was just the first person to explicitly point it out to me. People tend to value their opinion more than they value the opinion of others and I am no exception. I had decided that I was “good,” largely without reason to think that, and disregarded any idea that could possibly contradict that.
This was largely reinforced by the fact that I had gotten what I wanted my entire life, almost without question. My parents got divorced when I was a baby and I never knew my dad. My mom stayed single and was busy climbing the corporate ladder. She was always successful and we were well off in that respect.
Nashville was close, we tried to make Nationals happen whenever we could, and I went to Indianapolis because people from my local were going. Up until this point, traveling for the game was pretty much an anomaly for me to read about on Metagame, not something for me to actually do myself. I knew I liked the game and, as if I had any reason to doubt it before, I was so sure I was now also good at it. At the time, I definitely thought I had successfully disproved Chris.
I knew I wanted to start traveling more, but I was still in high school and was going to need my mom’s support to start going to more events. I begged her to not only allow me to go, but to fund me going as well. It was never a guaranteed or implied thing to go to the next event, but time and time again she agreed. Starting with YCS Dallas in 2011, I attended every single event in the United States for nearly four years before recently missing ARGCS Seattle in November.
Dallas, Charlotte, Anaheim, Orlando, Providence, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Columbus. Zero tops in eight events. I just couldn’t understand it. How do you go from topping all three of the last events in a row to not topping any for eight in a row? To make it worse, all but one of those events I made it to the final round while still in contention for top cut. I became notorious for bubbling out of the events.
YCS Kansas City happened in November of 2011 and I was finally able to make it back to top cut. Atlanta, Long Beach, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Columbus, Toronto, Indianapolis, Providence, and Seattle. Ten more events, again with zero top cut appearances. Again, mostly losses on the bubble.
Then 2013 comes; I top 8 events that year, followed by another 12 tops in 2014, 7 of which I won? How does that make sense? How do you go from 1 event top over the course of two years, to 20 event tops the following two years?
Maybe we’re not asking the right question to get to the bottom of this. Why did I top Kansas City? What changed for that event? Was it really that I was almost to that point, which allowed me to consistently make it to the last round still in contention to make the top cut, but wasn’t good enough to actually make it there? Then was Kansas City just an accident?
I remember Kansas City. Specifically, I remember something being different about Kansas City. I had done something wrong and my mom told me that she wouldn’t pay for me to go to that YCS. I still wanted to go and she wasn’t saying that I couldn’t go, just that she wouldn’t pay for it. I decided to just buy the plane ticket for myself.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that I topped this event, despite not topping the other ones. It may have not been automatic, but I essentially knew I could attend every event. This sets up a dangerous mentality in the back of your mind.
So what? There’s another one next month.
I say in the back of your mind, because I don’t think this was ever an active thought I ha, though I’m pretty sure it was at least a subconscious thought. Being able to attend every event with a fair amount of certainty makes you care less about each individual event. You place less importance on the event and preparing for the event than you would if you knew you were only going to one or two events in the near future. When you care less, you don’t do as well.
This was almost certainly reinforced by the three events that I did top prior to actively traveling in 2011. I wanted to prove to Chris that I was actually good at the game. By topping these events, I felt like I had nothing to prove. When I did top, I was invested into the idea of doing well, because I had a reason to want to do well. Once I did top, that reason went away.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I “didn’t want to top” the events I didn’t top. If anything, I’d say I “wanted to want to top.” I thought I wanted to top, but I lacked a motivating reason to turn it into a reality.
Kansas City wasn’t as automatic as the other events. I couldn’t just go to the event because I wanted to. I had to actually pay to go to the event. I felt more invested into going and I think I did better as a result, than I was doing when I felt like going to events was a given and felt like I had proved Chris wrong by having topped the few events I did.
But in topping Kansas City, I only reinforced this idea that I had already proved myself. I was seen as a “good” player and I thought I was “good.” Don’t think you’re good. You’re not. I don’t think I’m good today, I only think I’m good by comparison. But that’s comparing myself to a bunch of other people who are also not good. I don’t think I or anyone else has ever been better than maybe a six out of ten.
You’re not doing yourself any favors in terms of actual improvement if you pretend to be better than you really are. Be smart enough to recognize when you don’t know something. Then figure out why you don’t know it. After every single match ask yourself where you went wrong, regardless of whether you won or lost. If your answer doesn’t start with “I messed up when I…” then you’re wrong. You didn’t do everything correctly. When you think you have, you just haven’t asked the right questions to identify where you didn’t play correctly.
On the off chance you did do everything correctly, assume that you didn’t. There are thousands of decisions per match. Card choice and deck choice is even more decisions than that. I don’t remember the last time I lost a match and didn’t think it was my fault, or felt like there was nothing that I should have done differently.
This is difficult to grasp when you actually win the match or topped the tournament. If it worked out in your favor, you’re not going to think you did too much wrong. The result of the match/tournament is irrelevant. Thinking that it does is just a trap that people allow themselves to fall into.
That’s exactly what topping YCS Kansas did for me. I already had this false idea in my head that I was actually good at this game. I let the result of performing well reinforce that idea. I became complacent and it definitely showed. I didn’t have a compelling motivator that is necessary for success in this game, as I had once again fallen into the trap of unjustly believing to have proved myself. This complacency manifested itself in not being able to top a single event during the following year.
I think we can start to see a pattern emerging in my time playing this game prior to 2013. My improvement up until that point can largely be categorized by thinking I was better than I really was, becoming complacent, only to have an external check make me want to prove myself.
On ETC Forums we see it with me wanting to join Simply Clutch and being told “no.” I thought I was at least as good as the other best players and felt entitled to a spot on the team. When they told me I couldn’t join because I wasn’t good enough, I felt compelled to get better.
On DGZ, I felt complacent with where I was in the game once I joined the best team on that site. Even though I had joined the team, Chris was justified in thinking that I wasn’t very good and expressed this sentiment time and again. This motivated me to improve to the point that I could top Nashville, Nationals, and Indianapolis.
In topping these, I once again became complacent with my performance and felt like I had successfully proved Chris wrong. Additionally, I felt like going to the events was a given, which made me undervalue them. It took paying for it myself to see something other than “So what? There’s another one next month.”
In topping Kansas City, it reinforced the conception I had of myself and how good I actually was. Once again, I became content and stagnant. That leaves us to question what changed to catapult me out of complacency as we moved into 2013.
I often credit the book Next Level Magic as the primary reason for the change, as I read it at the end of 2012. This was certainly a huge contributor, as it gave me a new outlook on how to approach the game. I learned a ton from that book and have no doubt that I wouldn’t have had nearly the success I had without the book. What the book didn’t do was give me a reason to shift from “wanting to want to win” to “wanting to win.”
On Halloween in 2012 my grandfather’s back locked up, which prevented him from being able to walk. We took him to the hospital with hopes that they could help him. He was submitted to a rehab program to help get him walking again, but it was no quick fix. It was going to take at least six weeks away from his home and my grandmother to complete the program.
While he was at the nursing home for the program, he started to become less and less lucid. He would say things that didn’t make sense, get mad at things he thought he heard that were never said, and forget where he was.
During this time my family did their best to help in any way they could. My grandmother would go sit with him every single day he was in the nursing home. My uncle lived an hour away in Atlanta and I had moved an hour away for college, but we would both come visit him at least once a week. Despite my mom being closer than anybody, she was going less and less.
At first we just assumed it was difficult to make it there consistently with her working almost eighty hours a week at her job as vice president of an email marketing company in Atlanta. We soon realized this wasn’t the case as she was consistently drinking whenever she was at home.
In December, my grandfather had a complication and needed open heart surgery. My uncle and I started going even more often, not only to see him, but to help my grandmother, who was now driving an hour each way every single day to visit him at the hospital he had been moved to in Atlanta, in any way we could.
He spent an entire month in the hospital before being able to return to the nursing home to effectively restart the rehab program. My mom came to see him in Atlanta one time during that month. She was always a heavy drinker, but she was clearly taking it to the next level.
My grandfather’s condition continued to worsen once he returned to the nursing home. Some days he would be just fine, but others he would tell stories of what he had done that day around the nursing home, even though at this point he hadn’t walked in months. I regrettably must say that this story does not have a happy ending and he passed away in March of 2013 after an unexpected heart attack.
We all took it hard, but especially my mom. Between her father passing away and the pressure of working so much, she gave in to the pressure and didn’t show up to work for a week while she drank nonstop. This resulted in her being forced to resign. Over the next six months, she never even attempted to get a job. Instead she just drank away her severance package, while she let the bills go unpaid.
We tried everything we knew how to do to stop her, but it was impossible to let us help her or to get her to let someone else help her. She ended up getting her car repossessed and eventually the house too.
My grandfather and I were always close from the summers we would spend together building a tree house. He was gone. My mom wasn’t even the same person anymore. I didn’t have somewhere to come home to once the house got repossessed. My lifestyle completely changed and there were times where I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I went from having everything to absolutely nothing practically overnight. To say it was a drastic change from the lifestyle I had become accustomed to would be an understatement.
For as long as I can remember, my mom told me she would pay for my college as long as I was doing well. Two years into my degree, it became painstakingly obvious that wasn’t going to happen anymore. To make matters worse, I learn that my mom had used my name to take out $10,000 worth of loans that I would have to pay back that she used on liquor.
I wasn’t willing to have her legally prosecuted and make it only her problem, which left me with two options. If I were to drop out, the loans would start collecting immediately and I would start the rest of my life with no education. If I continued with school, the student debt would rapidly pile on. I chose the latter option, hoping that she could one day be able to help me pay it back.
I was forced to do a lot of growing up in 2013 by being thrown into the real world having never heard the word “no.” Yu-Gi-Oh became a necessary outlet during this time period. The entire situation broke my complacent and entitled attitude that I had grown to develop. Every event I could attend meant a lot more to me. I remember at a certain point not knowing how I would be able to eat within the week, if I didn’t do well at that weekend’s tournament. As the saying goes, with necessity comes innovation.
As a college senior with close to $60,000 in student loans, I remain optimistic. I like to think that what happened wasn’t just good for me from a card perspective, but a life perspective as well. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I was owed something. It broke me of the complacency I had developed over my lifetime and I was forced to wizen up to the ways of the world.
My mom finally agreed to attend a long-term rehab program at the Salvation Army in Connecticut at the very end of 2013. She went on to complete the program and was offered a job running their call center, which she has loved doing for over a year now.
I’d especially like to thank the entire Leverett family and Alter Reality Games, without either of which I’m sure I would no longer have been able to travel to events or play the game. It’s been a long journey so far and thankfully it’s not over yet. I challenge you to learn from the entitled attitude that I had and never become complacent in any aspect of life.
I want to sincerely thank you all for reading this and I look forward to seeing you all at the 150th YCS in Columbus, Ohio, just under three weeks from now! Until next time, play hard or go home!